By Josh Kirk
My first time hearing The Goon Sax was on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. The song was “Make Time 4 Love.” It consisted of charming, Talking Heads inspired vocals, clever songwriting with plenty of angst, beautiful, folky arrangements, and some pretty rad usage of cowbells. I thought the song was pretty cool and it has grown on me. A few months passed by, and the trio eventually put out We’re Not Talking. I decided to give it a listen out of curiosity and sure enough, I was very impressed with its results.
When you’re a trio of teenagers from Brisbane, Australia and you’re following up your debut album, you are bound to find some growth somewhere. That’s exactly the case for Louis Forster, James Harrison, and Riley Jones of the hilariously named band, The Goon Sax on their sophomore record, We’re Not Talking. This album is the follow-up to their 2016 debut album, Up to Anything, which received praise from multiple publications such as Pitchfork, Spin, Uncut, The Guardian, and Rolling Stone, and appeared on some year-end lists for BBC6, Billboard, and Rough Trade.
These 29 minutes of material, packed with emotion and wit, grand and versatile sounds, and lead vocals among all 3 members that sound like the musical equivalent of a friendly yet heartbreaking conversation. The record also adds some new strengths to the band’s musical repertoire. Drummer Riley Jones makes writing and lead vocal contributions for the first time and besides straightforward folk-rock instruments, We’re Not Talking is sprinkled with extra flavor provided by strings, horns, castanets, conga drums, and most importantly–cowbells. However, even more important to the band’s maturity are the lyrics, which show a more realized version of the skills they showed on their debut.
Here’s a few memorable lines that really stand out as striking from such young songwriters:
- “We don’t want distance but it seems to come to us so easily.” – “We Can’t Win” (track 8)
- “It feels like I’m losing myself and that’s new to you.” – “Losing Myself” (track 4)
- “I don’t have patience ‘cause I don’t speak German.” – “Losing Myself” (track 4)
- “Socialize like it’s a competition between kids without school or girlfriends.” – “Make Time 4 Love” (track 1)
- “Would you rather see me as the person you knew than who left you?” – “Somewhere In Between” (track 5)
- “This life you lead, it’s not for me.” – “A Few Times Too Many” (track 9)
- “When the bus went past your house and past your stop, my eyes filled with tears.” – “We Can’t Win” (track 8)
- “I’ve got a few things above my bed but it feels so empty, I’ve got spaces to fill and we’re not talking.” – “A Few Times Too Many” (track 9)
On the musical side of things, these songs show glaring worship of The Talking Heads, Stephen Merritt (frontman for The Magnetic Fields), and Jonathan Richman. They also remind me of the angsty, raw energy of the Violent Femmes, too. Yet somehow, they manage to create a laid-back, anthemic sound that’s easily recognizable. Overall, music journalists have published mostly rave reviews for this album. Nina Corcoran of Pitchfork Media gave We’re Not Talking a 7.2 rating, praising the album’s infusion of “conversational vocals with deep emotional resonance,” while Madison Desler of Paste Magazine said, “For The Goon Sax, growing up sounds pretty good,” and gave it a score of 8.4. The album has an 80% out of 100 on Metacritic. However, on the less positive front, Earbuddy gave the album a 4.8 rating, criticizing Louis Forster’s vocals as being hit or miss, usually on the tracks that try for what Parquet Courts do really well. I would argue though that Forster’s vocals, along with the voices of James Harrison and Riley Jones, actually show plenty of depth and emotional believability. Those vocals make the songwriting feel goosebump-worthy for me as a 17-year old about to graduate from high school in 6 months.
Here’s a few highlights from the album:
- “Make Time 4 Love” (track 1) – My introduction to this band, and a great one.
- “She Knows” (track 3) – High-energy, angsty rock song that shows tasteful worship of the Violent Femmes.
- “Losing Myself” (track 4) – Drum machine-laced ballad featuring conversational vocals between James Harrison and Riley Jones.
- “Strange Light” (track 6) – Gorgeous, lonely folk ballad written and sung by percussionist Riley Jones.
- “Sleep EZ” (track 7) – These Australian boys know how to create a steady melody, right?
- “We Can’t Win” (track 8) – This is a good example of the band’s melancholy maturity that is presented on much of this record.
- “A Few Times Too Many” (track 9) – Instantly memorable guitar and drum hook plus witty, introspective lyrics plus well-written chorus equals pop genius.
These are just a few examples of We’re Not Talking’s biggest pros. As far as cons are concerned, “Now You Pretend” (track 10) feels less fleshed out and memorable than this album’s best moments and “Get Out” (track 11), while a fun, hooky jam, doesn’t quite leave as big of an impression on the lyrical front. Still, this album and this band remains one of my favorite new musical discoveries of 2018. Considering The Goon Sax have improved upon their critically acclaimed debut, I’m very excited to hear how they improve upon this excellent sophomore record. I mean, let’s hope that their next record is their breakthrough.
Final Score: 8.2 / 10